February 01, 2005

Who loves the LA Times? Not apparently, Mickey Kaus, who writes that the greater SoCal area would be better off if it were to just disappear tomorrow. Quoth Kaus: "New journalistic organizations would form and expand to fill the void. Some of them would be good. All would be free to actually be lively and irreverent, without the dead weight of the Times bureaucracy and its historic faux-East-Coast confusion of stiff journalism with serious journalism."

In all likelihood, though, the Times' monopoly, should it ever be slain, would simply get replaced by a new monopoly, one that would inherit, in form if not in substance, the same "dead weight" bureaucracy and journalistic philosophy of its predecessor. People who wonder why Los Angeles is the way it is should always remember that the "city" of Los Angeles is only a portion of the vast mega-community of "Los Angeles", which expands as far south as San Clemente, as far north as Bakersfield, and as far east as the borders with Nevada and Arizona.

Even within Los Angeles County, there are numerous cities on the outskirts, not quite suburbs, that are quite distinct from the city of Los Angeles, cities such as Long Beach, Santa Monica, Inglewood, Compton, Pomona, Pasadena, Beverly Hills, etc., that have their own school districts and elect their own city officials, but which are still every much as part of the community of "Los Angeles" as Downtown or the Valley. Many of these satellite communities, in fact, have newspapers of their own, but none has been able to branch out and appeal beyond their locality. It's almost a cliche to note that this region is the Promised Land for immigrants from Central America and East Asia, and these groups have newspapers servicing their communities as well. The genius of the Times has been to create a touchstone, one of the few that exist locally besides the Lakers and the smog, that unites the vast community beyond the city borders.

Because of that, a local newspaper that appeals to the entire region is a necessity; the market demands it. Financially speaking, though, to have two (or more) newspapers attempting to appeal to that same broad base would be prohibitive. And it's been tried. As recently as sixteen years ago, Los Angeles was serviced by another paper, the Herald Examiner, a great newspaper published by the Hearst family. It had an awesome sports section, was gossipy and fun to read, and I still have the last edition from when it ceased publication in 1989, after years of drowning in ink as red as the blood of the Black Dahlia. There were other newspapers too, long ago, as much beloved as the HerEx (which was itself the child of a long-ago merger of two tabloids), but, in the end, none could compete with the Chandlers.

So we're pretty much stuck with the Times. Don't like its liberal politics? Too bad, you're in a Blue State, they come with the territory. Too stodgy for you? Not enough gossip? This isn't New York City, pal, and besides, what gossip column can compete with Court TV? Not enough coverage of local issues and events? Well, that's what the Press Telegram and the Daily News are for. Would LA be better off if the Times no longer existed? Maybe, but then it wouldn't be LA.

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